Not many interesting atheists have come from America, renowned theologian Stanley Hauerwas said Sunday, because the God most Americans believe in isn't interesting enough to deny.
“We may be living in a time where we are watching Protestantism come to an end," Hauerwas said at the Presbyterian Foundation Breakfast at the 221st General Assembly (2014) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
"It is dying of its own success."
Hauerwas, who has joint appointments at the Duke Divinity School and School of Law, said he “loves America, and I love being an American.” He said he cherishes Americans’ energy and generosity.
“But I am a Christian, and American Christianity has been less than it should have been,” he said. He said the end of Protestantism “will leave the church in the position where it has nothing to lose. All we’ll have is truth. It’ll be a good opportunity to yet make Christians interesting – even in America.”
Hauerwas arrived at Duke after a long career teaching at the University of Notre Dame. “I come from the Catholic side of Protestantism,” he said with a smile. “That means I don’t think that Christianity began with the Reformation.”
To many Americans, freedom means making a choice between TV brands, he said – and the same can be said about choosing the nation’s next president. “You make your choice, and then you live with it,” he said.
The real question is, should we be held accountable for the decisions made when we didn’t know what we were doing – such as whom we marry. “How could you have known what you were doing when you promised a lifetime of monogamy?” he said. That’s why we make our wedding vows in church, he added.
Ever since September 11, “the self-proclaimed most powerful nation in the world has run on fear,” he said – mostly the fear of dying, which he called “our desire to get out of life alive.”
Hospitals have become our cathedrals, he said, and doctors, our priests. Medical schools are now more interesting places than divinity schools, he said. Why? “Because people believe that inadequately-trained doctors can hurt them. What we fear is death, not God.”
During a question and answer session, Hauerwas lifted up Pope Francis and another of his favorite Catholics.
“If Mother Teresa were alive today and she sat in Mass the Pope Francis was saying, is there any question who would be the authority in the room?” Hauerwas said. “Francis knows it – that’s why he’s pope.”
Before Hauerwas spoke, Tom Taylor, Presbyterian Foundation president and chief executive officer, showed a film clip giving viewers a flavor of how the Foundation is following through with the direction of the 220th General Assembly (2012), urging positive investment in Israel-Palestine.
That direction came when commissioners narrowly defeated an overture to divest from three companies profiting from non-peaceful products being used in regions in Israel-Palestine, including the West Bank.
Walking the streets of a Palestinian neighborhood, Taylor talks in the film about three investment programs that the foundation supports: microloans, renewable energy and education.
One Palestinian clothes designer turned a $3,000 loan into a business with four employees. A solar energy facility near Jericho is taking advantage of what is, on average, 300 days of sunshine per year. And folks from all over the Middle East are attending a college in Palestine. One woman has this to say in the film: “We are trying to introduce the beautiful face of Palestine.”
“This is an effort of the whole Presbyterian Church,” Linda Valentine, executive director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency, says during the film. “It’s one way we can use our resources to transform lives.”